Make your own free website on

Part Three: Bhakti Hinduism: The way of devotion to God

A third stage in Hinduism emerged near the beginning of the Common Era. The scriptures that reflect this stage are the epics such as the Bhagavad-Gita and the Ramayana as well as the poetic stories known as the Puranas.(These will be discussed in more detail below). These exciting and entertaining stories focus on devotion to a god the primary way of living faithfully. Part of this devotion is obedience - in particular obedience to the duties and responsibilities required of one's station in life.

At this point, we need to note an important connection between the way of devotion and the way of ritual. Remember that the purpose of the rituals and sacrifices in the Vedas was to maintain the cosmic order.  Without these sacrifices, it was thought that the cosmos itself would descend into chaos. In the Bhagavad-Gita and the Ramayana the notion is set forth that the social and cosmic order is maintained not so much by ritual, but by the Hindu concept of dharma: fulfilling the duties and responsibilities that are appropriate to one's place in life. Of course, in Hinduism the notion of order through ritual and order through faithful action are not contradictory or mutually exclusive. They are simply two paths to the same goal.

 Be Careful!

This connection between the way of devotion and the way of ritual should warn us that our framework is something of an oversimplification. In reality, things are much more complex.  Do not think that Hinduism somehow threw out everything from stage one when it entered stage two. The truth is, the old made room for the new, and the new somehow accommodated or absorbed the old.

The chart below will help you to organize your thinking about Hinduism         






Vedic (Way of Ritual)

Fire Sacrifice to maintain order

Priests (Brahmins)

Samhitas – earliest collection (Rig Veda, etc).

Classical Hinduism (Way of Wisdom)

Liberating realization of the true nature of atman and  Brahman

Sanyassin – the renunciate who seeks spiritual understanding

Aranyakas and Upanishads (latest collection in Vedas)

Devotional Hinduism

Devotion and obedience to a god/goddess

Any one

Puranas and the epics (Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana)










return to top | previous page